Archives for the ‘Esoteric Minutiae’ Category

Finding Mojo

Not waving but drowning

Do you feel exhausted and frustrated? Or perhaps you feel annoyed and demotivated? May be you’ve had this feeling a thousand times before but can’t quite remember how to shake it? The French have a special name for this state of being. They call it “ennui” which roughly translates to boredom (and possibly something much darker). Whatever you choose to call it, don’t just wait for it to pass. Not this time.

In order to rediscover your mojo, we need to first agree on its meaning. defines it as “the art or practice of casting magic spells; magic; voodoo”. In essence, it’s getting into the groove or feeling the buzz. In practice, it’s creating or doing things that make you feel remarkable, amazing, happy.

In his Ted talk, neuroscientist Daniel Wolpert has come up with an unusual premise of why the brain has evolved. According to him, our brains have evolved not to think or feel but to move. To create mojo.

Not drowning but waving

If Daniel Wolpert’s premise is true, that we’re creatures created for mojo, then the first step to rediscovering our mojo is to get moving.

  1. Stop what you’re doing right now (in a safe way).
  2. Say the one thing you’d really like to do today to get your mojo flowing again OUT LOUD. (Remember, you don’t have to realise your world domination dream today. That would be like trying to swallow the sun. Instead go for the smallest baby step you can do today towards your goal.)
  3. Just do it.

Instead of “not waving but drowning”, get moving to find your mojo. Because if your mojo is missing, it misses you.


Strike a Pose

Whether you’re a first time developer, manager, leader or parent, according to Amy Cuddy in her Ted talk, the key to increased confidence in what you do is to strike a pose. Literally.

While your mind can clearly control your body, according to research, changing your posture can significantly affect what you think. Especially how you perceive yourself.

Years ago, while I was totally daunted by the prospect of my final year French spoken exam, a girl who lived down the corridor shared with me the secret to her consistent high performance in exams.

“Of course I study for every exam,” Miss High Achiever said. “But there’s something else I do right before I go into the exam room. It’s very silly, but it works.”

It turns out my friend would spend a few minutes psyching herself up in front of a mirror, usually in the ladies toilets. She would stand tall, look herself in the eye then say just loud enough for herself to hear, “You’re the best. You’re the best. You’re the best.”

At the time, out of desperation, I tried out my friend’s tip. I did much better than I ever imagined in my final year French spoken exam.

Of course, spending a year out in France as a language assistant helped as did my intense revision.

Standing in front of the mirror just before my exam telling myself “You’re the best” didn’t turn me into a narcissist anymore than it did with my friend. Instead, it reminded us that no matter what happened, we were going to give it our best shot.

And that’s my takeaway from Amy Cuddy’s Ted talk. “Fake it until you become it.” With enough practice, preparation and self-belief you, too, can make it.

This tip got me through one of my scarier moments in 2012 when I gave my first TedX talk last year.

How are you going to fake it until you become it?

The Odd Story of Timothy Green

“We have always had as much time as we have ever had. No more, no less.” – Anon.

In the modern life of daily hustle and bustle, of striving, failing and achieving, we are prone to forget vital things. One of them is this: Time is the most precious asset we have.

Imagine life as a finite timebox. We have as much of it as we have ever had. When the bell tolls, the size of the timebox isn’t open for negotiation.

Instead of thinking yourself time-poor, think of yourself as time-rich. Distinguish between a want and a need. Now how would you choose to invest life time?

And if you haven’t already, see “The Odd Story of Timothy Green“. It’s a story about life, love and living. It’ll really make you think.

World Book Day 2013

Calling All Bookworms

What better way to celebrate this Thursday than with World Book Day in the UK?

I love everything about books. Holding them, reading them, writing them, reviewing them, talking about them and re-reading them.

If you do too, then here are a few suggestions to make the most of World Book Day and beyond:

Happy World Book Day!

Love is in the Air

Favourite Days of the Year

St Valentine’s Day has become my third favourite day of the year, the first being Christmas Day (a family and friends day) and the second being New Year’s Eve (a day to dust off those cobwebs and line up one’s mind furniture for the year ahead).

That hasn’t always been the case, of course. Growing up as an ugly duckling has meant that many a Valentine’s Day would fade into another-one-of-those-days-to-forget, year after year, for much longer than I care to remember.

Embrace Others and Yourself

And then one year, not so long ago, I decided to embrace St Valentine’s Day. Why shouldn’t I celebrate it, too? After all, we can all go to the ball just like Cinderella. If we so choose.

I’ve come to learn that the simplest way to enjoy St Valentine’s is by bringing joy to others and myself.

What does this mean? Do something nice for someone else. A simple Thank You email / note / card will suffice, telling them how much you appreciate them. If you’re feeling particularly generous, gift something to someone they cannot or rarely buy for themselves. It’s no  coincidence that flowers are the most popular gift on Valentine’s Day. And they don’t have to be only for a romantic partner. They could be for someone you love. A friend, your mum, your sister, your dad.

Remember to also do something nice for yourself. Go for that walk you’ve been meaning to for ages. Or treat yourself to a little something you’ve always wanted but never got around to getting.

So why is St Valentine’s Day my third favourite day of the year? Because it gives us a chance to express our love and appreciation for others as well as for ourselves.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

When You Wish Upon a Star

Miserly Wishing

Some people are stingy with their wishes. “I have only three wishes, so I must make each of them count!” they tell themselves. The result of this miserly attitude to wishing often results in wishes that barely resemble what people really, really want. And, more importantly, what they really, really need.

Meaningful Wishing

To discover what really matters to you, try answering this question from artist Candy Chang: “Before I die I want to…”

Infinite Wishing

I’ve heard tell that in the original version of the Genie in the Lamp there was no constraint on the number of wishes one could make upon setting the genie free.

Plenty More Wishes in the Sea

So go on. What do you wish for? Come up with one wish after another. And remember, when you wish upon a star, you’re a step closer towards turning that wish into a reality. After all, everything we do begins with a thought. For the lucky ones, it begins with a wish. For those who persevere, we can make our wishes come true.

Here’s wishing you a Happy 2013 and beyond!

The Gift of Christmas Spirit

Ho! Ho! Ho!

December is one of my favourite months of the year. Call me a traditionalist. I value a time when many people converge on giving, sharing and generally making that extra bit of effort in being kind towards one another.

The Christmas Challenge

While Christmas day itself can be a sizeable test of one’s personal agility, the real challenge I find is with giving the right presents. I know, I know. “There’s no right or wrong when it comes to gift giving!” I hear you say. Only there is. It’s all too easy to get things “too wrong”.

So here’s my strategy for gift giving this Christmas:

  1. Be value-driven – Don’t just settle for spending money on tat. Figure out what the recipient is passionate about and values then go from there. Don’t be seduced by the sheer prettiness of shiny packaging. Believe you can find something that’s substantial and well-presented
  2. Set a budget – Do this for both your overall gift budget and amount per individual. Setting a budget allows you to calculate the relative Return-On-Investment of a gift for everyone on your list and helps you distribute the joy more evenly
  3. Spend time browsing – Giving a “good” (aka valuable) gift is a test of how well you know the recipient. If you’re stuck for ideas, put on your creative thinking hat and imagine what they would like. I recommend investing at least 15 minutes browsing per person or gift. Within that time box, challenge yourself to come up with at least 3 ideas to choose from before making a decision
  4. Ring a friend – Ask for help. Borrow ideas. Find out what others are buying their family and friends. Remember, you can always ask recipients directly for their wish list with no obligation to buy
  5. Give a gift of skill or service – What shareable special skills or interests do you have? Consider giving personal service tokens such as “This certificate qualifies you for 3 months worth of lawn mowing” or “Your child is entitled to 6 music lessons” or “This voucher gives you 3 arts and crafts sessions guaranteed to wow your friends”

Christmas doesn’t have to be commercial

If you’re still feeling “Bah! Humbug!” about Christmas, remember that commodification is in the eye of the gift giver. Imagine what a fairy godmother would give to someone you love.

Last but not least, when someone gives you a gift, you can always give the gift of gratitude.

Mind the Bump

A Personal Transformation

I recently became a walking social experiment. One that puts the human kindness of London commuters to the test. What’s more, it’s part of embarking on a “life-changing” journey. The kind that when you tell people about it, those in the know nod sagely and say, “It’s going to be nothing like you’ve ever imagined and nothing can prepare you for it. It will change your life forever.”

At this point, their brows usually furrow and their faces darken, but for a moment. Then they smile and say, “But it’s all worth it.” I can’t help but wonder if they’re offering me reassurance or consolation of what is to come.

The Kindess of Strangers

Commuting in London can seem like an Olympic event at the best of times and when you’re carrying a large bump with you, it’s inevitable that you start to see a different side of your fellow commuters.

The first thing I began to notice is how many people are preoccupied with their own thoughts as the carriage judders towards their usual station. These people clearly have a lot on their mind. These people don’t notice me at all.

Then there are those who leap up with an electric shock to offer me their seat. After thanking them, as I sit down I wonder what makes them offer me a seat when none of the other passengers do.

Just last week, after slipping into an empty seat on a semi-crowded train, I noticed a fellow mum-to-be. I waved and offered her my seat but she waved back to indicate that under no circumstances would she take my seat. Eventually, someone else gave up their seat for her after our brief mime exchange.

Slow Down to Make Sense of Being

To be honest, I used to be one of those people with too much on their mind to really see other people for who they are. Ever since acquiring my bump, I’ve had to slow down and it’s made more aware of others as well as myself. For instance, if you look carefully, you’ll find that London is packed full of pregnant women, going about their business like everybody else.

I’ve also come to appreciate the great gift that is the offer of a seat on the crowded tube by a fellow traveller. The fact is, there’s always someone who needs that seat more than us.

What small gesture of kindness can you make this Monday morning on your way to work?

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

A Flash from the Past

Years ago when I was back at school, I had two very different English teachers.

The first was Ms. H, a quiet, unassuming and knowledgeable young teacher. She was my favourite teacher because she encouraged me to improve my writing through my assignments. For a long time, I wondered if she wanted to become a writer herself and just before I left school, I found out that she was writing a novel in her spare time. I remember feeling pleased upon discovering this information and secretly wished her well.

The second was Mrs. W, a very knowledgeable and exceptionally opinionated teacher. In many ways, teachers with strong views can be an inspiration and Mrs. W was exactly that to me. Mrs. W was a retired journalist who had worked at a number of the famous newspapers in London. She seemed the most worldly-wise among all the teachers at my school.

Death Sentence?

At the tender age of 15, I figured that whatever Mrs. W said was worth listening to. This rule worked well until the day I mentioned I’d like to be a writer and she replied, “Forget about becoming a writer, you’ll never be good enough.”

The rule of listening to Mrs. W had been hardcoded into my brain and what had been heard could not be unheard. At first I felt shocked then angry at the certainty with which she uttered her judgment. And when the shock and anger fizzled out, I decided I would have to find my own way. She may be right in her conviction, but I had to at least try to do my dream justice.

And so I dabbled with writing short stories for a while and, being a complete novice, quickly got lost. The next baby step I could take was a joint honours degree in English and French to keep my dream of becoming a writer alive.

Dormant Dreams

Eventually, with the distractions of life and reality, I fell asleep, along with my dream of becoming a writer, much like Dorothy did in the poppy field on her way to see the wizard.

When I awoke, I’d become an IT professional, first a developer, then a development manager then a consultant.

In the last 4 years, I’ve made at least 20 attempts to write a book. Fiction or non-fiction, it didn’t really matter. To be a writer, I needed to write. For me, a successful outcome would be a book I wrote.

Back to the Future

Twenty five years later after that fateful conversation with Mrs. W, my dream became a reality.

On Wednesday, 6 June 2012, two days after the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, my first book was born: ‘The Dream Team Nightmare’, a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure aka Fighting Fantasy style game book where you, the protagonist, plays an Agile Coach tasked with helping to get a failing Agile team back on track.

The value of experiments

Thanks to my previous attempts (aka experiments), I’d finally produced a work consisting of elements of fiction AND non-fiction. What’s more, it’s the first ever game book in the Agile Community that I know of. And better still, in writing ‘The Dream Team Nightmare’, I imagined into existence a series close to my own heart called ‘Agile Adventures – When the journey matters as much as the destination’.

Dream BIG, live it little by little

So what’s my biggest take away from my 21 attempts in recent years at living my dream of becoming a writer? That we have everything we need to overcome the challenges we face to live our dreams. The key is to stay faithful to your dream, go easy on yourself and live a bit of the dream every day.

What’s the smallest step you can take right now to help make one of your dreams come true?

Beauty and the Beast

Some years ago, I went for lunch with an old friend who worked (and still works) for Microsoft. At the time, by way of introductions, he gave me one of his latest business cards. On it was written, ‘Change the world or go home‘.

Meet the Blue Monster

Holding that one business card in my hand signified my first encounter with the ‘Blue Monster’, a life changing event that I would remember always. Why? Because at that moment, I fell in love with an idea. Truly, madly, deeply. The kind of love you find in ‘Beauty and the Beast’. The kind of love so powerful that begins its life as a children’s story, before becoming a Disney cartoon and then finally transforming into a Broadway musical created to move the world.

I was still clutching onto the business card when I got home because I wanted to share it with my friend TJ (Thoughtful Jim).

“So what do you think?” I remember asking eagerly, hoping that he would join me in the noble and worthy cause of ‘changing the world or go home’. Since resigning wasn’t an option for either of us (we both needed to work to pay the bills), I reasoned that the only option was to change the world through the work we do.

As usual, there was a long pause between telling or showing TJ something and getting a response.

Eventually, TJ replied. “The sentiment is noble indeed, but what would happen if everyone did what the card told them to? Everything would turn into chaos.”

“What would happen?!?” I said, my voice shrill with excitement. “We would change the world, bit by bit. One baby step at a time. It doesn’t take a lot when each of us is willing to do our bit. Just imagine!”

Remember the Blue Monster

That fateful day, TJ and I came to a mutual and silent agreement that we would each of us make of the Blue Monster what we will.

And to this day, the Blue Monster still has a special place in my heart. Over the years, the Blue Monster has even acquired a special place in our world. I know this because of the continued resonance of his creator’s subsequent work, judging by the way books like ‘Ignore Everybody’ and ‘Evil Plans’ have become successes.

Lessons from the Blue Monster

Thanks to Hugh McLeod sharing his thoughts on how we should ‘Ignore Everybody’ and have ‘Evil Plans’, I’ve learned to let out a caricature chuckle “Mu-HA-HA-HA!!!” in my head whenever I’ve pushed the Envelope of Assumptions just that bit further and nudged the Wall of Fear of Change by a micro-inch.

Become an ‘Investor in People’

We can each of us make a difference, no matter how small or how insignificant it may seem to others, so long it matters to us. Just as I choose my restaurants by voting with my feet, I choose to support and sponsor the people who inspire me with their beliefs and actions. Why? So that together, we can shape the future we want to be part of. A future for our children to be part of.

Look around you. Who do you support and what does that mean for our future?